When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced plans to employ a government task force to triple the Japanese robotics industry, most people weren’t surprised by the news. After all, Japan has been a boon for robotics technology for decades now. What nobody expected was Abe’s intention to create the Robot Olympics by 2020. Yes, the Olympic games with robots for athletes.
“I would like to gather all of the world’s robots and […] hold an Olympics where they compete in technical skills,” Abe said, while touring robotic factories throughout Japan. The event, if it ever ends up materializing, will take place alongside the 2020 summer Olympics set to be held in Tokyo.
Robot competitions are nothing new. The annual Robogames hosts small-scale remote controlled and robotically-powered sports events. The DARPA Robotics Challenge features robots capable of using tools, climbing ladders and performing other tasks that can help humans upon disaster. And in Switzerland, a group of investors will hold the Cybathlon in 2016, a Special Olympics featuring disabled athletes using robotically-powered assistive technology.
If the Robot Olympics does occur, it will have the potential to showcase how capable robots are, potentially incentivizing further research into robotics. For example, self-driving cars, which were unable to complete the test track at DARPA 2004, are now an emerging technology capable of driving on public roads. A Japanese engineering firm is already interested in building a 60-foot moving replica Gundam robot by 2019. So even if Abe’s Robot Olympics doesn’t go through, this is only the tip of the innovation iceberg for Japanese robotics.